Souvenirs and Odds and Ends at Gettysburg

Last weekend I took a trip out to Gettysburg to stay for a few nights. My main purpose was to collect a series of tourist objects to use as examples for group work when my Civil War class discusses souvenirs and tourism in a few weeks. But Gettysburg is also one of my favorite places to visit, and it soothed my soul to spend a few lovely spring days there after a long winter and a hectic semester. I’ve visited the battlefield many times before, so there was no pressure this time to see every aspect of the historical narrative. Instead, I wandered the field with my camera, recording just a few aspects of the site’s monuments and memory. Here are a few examples of what I saw:

Monument to Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard

Monument to Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard

This monument to Major General Oliver Otis Howard, located on East Cemetery Hill, was sculpted by Robert Aitken and erected in 1932. It clearly depicts the empty sleeve of the general who lost his right arm at the battle of Fair Oaks in June 1862.

Name plaques on the Pennsylvania Monument

Name plaques on the Pennsylvania Monument

I have often climbed to the top of the State of Pennsylvania Monument on Cemetery Ridge, but this was the first time I noticed that the plaques on the monument’s base listing the names of Pennsylvania soldiers who fought in the battle include numerous examples of names erased or added later. This palimpsest of military remembrance speaks to the incomplete record-keeping of the Civil War area and the impossibility of ever having a complete reckoning of the war to set in bronze. And yet, we try.

Monument to Bvt. Lt. Col. Alonzo Cushing

Monument to Bvt. Lt. Col. Alonzo Cushing

It was nice to see that the monument to recent Medal of Honor awardee Bvt. Lt. Col. Alonzo Cushing at the High Water Mark on Cemetery Ridge is receiving attention in the form of flags placed at the site.

114th PA Monument

114th PA Monument

This monument to the 114th Pennsylvania (Collis’ Zouaves) always impresses me with its grace.

View from Little Round Top, with statue of Maj. Gen. Gouvernor K. Warren

View from Little Round Top, with statue of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren

In the height of summer, it is almost impossible to find a quiet moment to enjoy the view from Little Round Top, but around 5 in the afternoon on Sunday, April 12, we found the hill almost deserted. Karl Gerhardt’s statue of Gen. Warren always serves as an excellent focal point for the view.

11th Massachusetts Monument

11th Massachusetts Monument

And on our way back into town along the Emmitsburg Road, we spotted the 11th Massachusetts Monument. This monument looks strange to most eyes, but the arm sprouting from the top was one of the key elements of the Massachusetts coat of arms, worn on the buttons of the state’s soldiers. The monument was vandalized in 2006 and painstakingly restored by the National Park Service.

And what of the souvenirs I collected for my Civil War class?

Assorted souvenirs from Gettysburg

Assorted souvenirs from Gettysburg

My loot included:

  • A teddy bear wearing the uniform of a Union soldier
  • A Gettysburg souvenir spoon
  • A cup and ball game painted to look like a Confederate soldier
  • A mouse pad alluding to Gettysburg’s recent interest in ghost tourism
  • A shadow box containing a photograph of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and two Minié balls
  • An Abraham Lincoln salt and pepper shaker set (one shaker is Abe’s head, and the other is his hat)
  • A mug made by Deneen Pottery depicting the Brickhouse Inn at Gettysburg

We’ll see if these objects spark some discussion with my students in a few weeks!

Assembling a Teaching Collection of 19th-Century Photography

When teaching a course in art history, material culture, or visual culture, it is desirable to teach directly from the object whenever circumstances and class sizes make that possible. PowerPoint is a terrific tool, but the reproduced image on the projector screen can distort students’ perceptions about size, color, and many other variables. In order to facilitate learning about nineteenth-century visual technologies, I have begun to gather a small teaching collection of photographic materials. The objects in this collection are commonly available in antique stores and on eBay, and run from a few dollars to about $50. In examining these objects up close, students learn to distinguish between different types of photographic processes and experience the intimate scale of these items firsthand.


My collection currently includes a daguerreotype, two ambrotypes, two tintypes, two cartes de visite (CDVs), a cabinet card, a stereoscope with several stereo cards, and a modern tintype and CDV copy by Rob Gibson of Gettysburg. Whenever I visit an antique store, I look for new objects to add to the collection.


One of the goals of my collection is to teach students to distinguish between daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. These three photographic processes look almost identical when viewed in reproductions in scholarly texts or museum catalogues. But when looking at the photographs in person, students can easily see the differences between the daguerreotype’s mirrored surface, the ambrotype’s black-backed glass, and the tintype’s comparative durability. Students also react to the intimate scale of the photographs in their decorative leather cases.


This collection also allows me to let students experience the effect of looking through a stereoscope and seeing a two-dimensional image take on added depth. For classroom purposes, I look for stereo cards with an exceptional depth of field.


For classroom handling, I place the more delicate pieces into letter trays I purchased for a low price at Target. The trays are lined with felt to protect and offset the photographs, and I also place labels in the trays to reinforce the distinction between different photographic processes. These trays allow students to pass the photographs from person to person with a minimal risk of damage.


I often look for opportunities to add new categories to my collection. I am particularly interested in the ways in which the stereoscope may have allowed a special understanding of three-dimensional sculpture, and I am looking to collect more sculpture stereo cards. These three cards represent works by John Rogers. In addition, I am hoping to collect CDVs of nineteenth-century celebrities and examples of popular print culture.


One of my favorite objects is this CDV of Sgt. Alfred Stratton of the 147th New York Infantry, who lost both of his arms above the elbow when he was hit by a solid shot outside Petersburg, Virginia on June 18, 1864. After the war ended, he sold CDVs of his image to support his family. I have recently begun investigating Sgt. Stratton’s self-presentation for an article project.

DSC_3335   Mahoney

Finally, I remind students that some photographers are still using nineteenth-century processes to produce photographs with an uncanny connection to the past. This tintype (and accompanying CDV) was taken by Rob Gibson of Gettysburg on July 2, 2013 during the celebration of the battle’s sesquicentennial. I find that the video below of Gibson making a wet plate photograph is a useful companion to the presentation of my teaching collection.

I hope this post inspires you to create a teaching collection of your own! Many examples of nineteenth-century ephemera are relatively easy to find and inexpensive to acquire, and a demonstration with actual objects is a valuable tool in the classroom.